we must also caution against NAB running away with itself and embarking on a witch hunt
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has had a mixed reception over the years. Founded in 1999 as an autonomous and constitutionally established federal institution, its mission has always been the same — to fight corruption and hunt down and prosecute those who commit fraud using public assets. It has sweeping powers that have been extended several times, and has in the past been criticised for its unwillingness to prosecute many allegedly involved in corruption. It has also been criticised by no less than the Supreme Court for “plea bargaining”, which was described by Justice (retd) Khawaja as “institutionalised corruption”. He also accused NAB of tipping off some corrupt individuals, enabling them to flee before they were arrested. After 15 years of operation, it remains one of the most powerful agencies in the country, and on the plus side (but by its own accounting) had recovered by 2011, Rs240 billion — around $4 billion — and is now set to embark on a fresh round of investigations.
A mixed bag of targets has been announced, with investigations into the activities of former federal and provincial ministries and retired officials of the Pakistan Air Force and the Civil Aviation Authority. Nobody can accuse NAB of fishing for minnows, as some of the names on the list of people and agencies to be investigated are very big fish indeed. A former education minister of Sindh (and his ‘accomplices’) is there, as is a former federal communications minister and the former excise and taxation minister of Balochistan. Whilst we have to welcome the fact that many are to be investigated, we must also caution against NAB running away with itself and embarking on a witch hunt, especially if it only focuses on investigating people affiliated to a particular political party. With extraordinary powers come extraordinary responsibilities. If anybody is to be prosecuted, then it has to be against irrefutable evidence properly presented before the courts. Above all, NAB itself has to be above political manipulation, difficult in a country where the rigging of public institutions to suit political ends is commonplace. A number of comfortable retirements are about to be interrupted.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2015.
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